Recently, it has seemed that all we talk about is what to do with our houseless population. As a city councilor, I get dozens of communications a week about this subject. I acknowledge that we all have differing opinions on the cause of houselessness, why it is growing in our city, and certainly the solutions. But we can all agree on one thing: what we have now is unacceptable for everybody. It’s unacceptable to have people living in tents in traffic. It’s unacceptable for businesses to have to clean up from people living outside. It’s unacceptable to have streets taken over. It’s unacceptable that we have nowhere for people to go. It’s unacceptable for anyone to feel unsafe whether houseless or not. It’s unacceptable to have people be at risk of dying from the cold.
As you have heard, the city is putting together plans on multiple fronts to help. But, what you may not be aware of is that this is the first council to really take on houselessness and it has grown so quickly that we are, in the words of city staffer Carolyn Eagan, “building a plane while flying it.”
A quick list of what we have done and what is in the works:
- We purchased the warming shelter on Second Street. It’s currently at max capacity.
- We purchased a hotel and are in the process of renovating it for use as a shelter.
- We are looking to purchase another hotel for use as a shelter and a navigation center.
- We formed the Emergency Homelessness Task Force to develop a strategic plan and the Sounding Board to recommend changes to our shelter code.
- We are collaborating with the county on funding and looking at a potential joint office concept.
- The city has compiled a list of city owned land for potential outdoor shelters along with an RFP in order to see if there are service providers who have a vision for this land.
- We have dedicated half of our ARPA funds to shelters.
It’s not happening quickly enough. A look at our incredible Veterans Village will tell you that, yes, these projects can be incredibly impactful and successful but that they take ALL of us and they take a long time.
And this is where I appeal to you. We need all of us to find a solution.
I’m specifically putting a call out for help this winter. None of our projects will be ready to go in the next few months as we go through the necessary vetting process and do public outreach. We need locations for temporary warming shelters. If we don’t do something, people will die. They did last winter and they did during our heat wave.
I’m calling on anyone with an empty building. Can we lease your space for 4 months for a shelter? I’m calling on churches, schools and other community organizations. Can we do safe parking in your parking lot or use part of your building? I’m calling on businesses. How can you offer your skills and creativity to find us warm locations for our houseless? And I’m calling on all of us. Can you help think of safe ways of staying warm? We have the funds. What we don’t have is the space or the humanpower to be able to finish the job.
Let’s work together. We don’t have to be on opposite sides. We can accept our differences and work on this together. We can temporarily put aside the things that make us disagree in order to make this city a better place. I’ll be reaching out to communities in Bend over the next few weeks and holding online listening sessions where you can bring your collaborative ideas. Let’s talk them through! Maybe something great can come out of them. In the meantime, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to our discussions.